Wow. I've just had the most fun I've had since I was a kid. And, in the process, I’ve experienced an epiphany about the future of urban transport.
With three meetings to attend in different parts of the city, adding up to a 30-mile round trip, I was reluctant to sit on public transport for several hours. And as for driving, I knew I could probably pogo-stick faster.
Cycling was the obvious option, to get me out in the fresh air, seeing wonderful sights whizz by. But these were especially important meetings, without much time in between each, and I didn’t want to be at all tired and flustered when I arrived. So I decided to get a helping hand.
Having test-ridden a few electric bikes round small circuits at various cycle shows, I knew these were canny machines. But I’d never properly put one through its paces. I got in touch with my friends at the Electric Transport Shop, and they generously lent me an electric Brompton. To say I felt unworthy of such a magnificent machine is putting it mildly.
The three-gear bike came equipped with a 36-volt battery tucked away inside a pannier on the handlebars. The battery was connected to a throttle that powers the machine up to 15 miles per hour. The bike’s range – the distance it can cover when throttling – was around 20-30 miles. The idea is to try to conserve power by throttling only when it’s most useful – for instance, when pedalling uphill and off bends, and when accelerating.
Feeling like a kid in a sweetshop, I throttled like there was no tomorrow. The sensation was quite astonishing. It was like riding a moped, only, despite the slower speeds, it seemed faster – perhaps because the bike was comparatively so small, light and manoeuvrable.
I found myself grinning the entire time – especially enthusiastically when I saw the astonished faces of bystanders and other cyclists as I rocketed away from traffic lights much faster than they expected! The extra oomph made the experience a little more seat-of-the-pants than riding my usual clunker. That said, I actually felt safer on the e-bike. Being able to spirit myself along so swiftly meant I could slot in better with the flow of traffic, or nip away from congestion double-quick.
I arrived at my meetings totally relaxed, without having broken sweat and not in the slightest bit tired, despite having burnt quite a few calories. In terms of the charge cost, my round trip worked out at about 10p. Yes, you read that right: 10p. To charge the bike, you just detach the battery (very easy to do – it takes half a second) and plug it into a small power pack that connects to a mains socket. You don’t have to drag the bike indoors or anything like that. The battery charges fully in about four hours.
The only downside of my trip was that I ran out of power about five miles from home and had to pedal normally from there. For such a long round trip I should have charged the battery halfway through, which would have been easy to do at any of my meeting venues. Yet, in a way, running out of power made the last five miles even more enlightening. Experiencing the difference between an e-bike and a regular bike showed me how revolutionary e-bikes really are.
Electric bikes are to normal bikes as normal bikes are to no bikes at all. Just as the invention of the bicycle multiplied the energy efficiency of individual human beings to a level way beyond anything known in nature, the electric bike multiplies the energy efficiency of normal bicycles to an incredible new level. Truly anyone, no matter how unfit, could cover thirty miles on an e-bike. And whereas a fairly fit person could ride a normal bike, say, for a 20-mile round trip five times a week, realistically the experience might become draining after three or four working days.
E-bikes are for cyclists and non-cyclists alike – which is to say, for everyone.
By Ben Irvine